The Foo Fighters as a band exists today as the brainchild of multitalented musician/songwriter Dave Grohl, and was formed in 1995. Coming out of the grunge scene of the 90s, the Foo Fighters’ music has been labeled as “post-grunge,” “alt-rock,” “modern rock,” among other things, but can be difficult to truly pin down. Their sound has changed from album to album, as personnel have come and gone and Grohl’s songwriting has evolved (though not always necessarily for the better, at least to the minds of some fans.) The band’s name comes from to the term “foo fighter,” used in World War II to refer to mysterious aerial phenomenon.
Dave Grohl and Nirvana
David Eric Grohl already had a long musical career before forming the Foo Fighters. Growing up in a Washington DC suburb in Virginia, he first began playing guitar at the age of twelve and soon became interested and involved in the DC punk scene. Playing in a few hardcore bands here and there, he also picked up the drums, and at 17 got his first significant gig as a drummer in the DC-area band Scream. He eventually dropped out of high school to play drums full time. While touring with Scream in 1990 on the West Coast he met and became friends with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana. They liked his drumming and when Scream suddenly disbanded, Grohl auditioned for and got the gig with Nirvana.
In 1991, Nirvana released their album Nevermind which brought them and the entire grunge scene to mainstream success and notoriety. Curiously enough, to Grohl’s mind he was never entirely sure that his addition to the band had really been for the best as far as their sound was concerned, preferring the music the band had recorded before on such albums as Bleach. Grohl was writing songs himself at the time, but instead of bringing them to Nirvana for consideration, he kept them mostly to himself, recording self-made demos on the side and even releasing a cassette in 1992 called Pocketwatch under pseudonym.
“After Kurt died I realized that you can’t take anything for granted. The fact that you get to wake up tomorrow and experience another day. Regardless of whether that day may be the worst day of your life, you still get to have that day. So since Kurt died I’ve felt really fortunate, even in being alive. As in ‘God, I’m lucky to be alive’. A lot of people don’t think like that. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that they’re alive. But, for me, it could all end today and I would consider myself the luckiest person I know.” – Dave Grohl, quoted in Dave Grohl: Foo Fighters, Nirvana and Other Misadventures
The beginning of the Foo Fighters
Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994 left Grohl uncertain where to go next musically. He went back to the studio to quickly record more demos, singing and playing virtually all instruments himself. He briefly played drums with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and was rumored to be a replacement drummer for Pearl Jam, but by then significant studio interest was being shown for turning his demos into an album. Despite having recorded all the tracks himself and only professionally remixing the demos instead of re-recording them for the album, he did not want to go out at the time touring as a solo artist. Instead he pulled together a group of musicians to perform and tour the material: former Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear, and two members of the band Sunny Day Real Estate: drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel. Nate, at times referred to as the “shy, voice of reason” within the Foo Fighters, is the only member beside Grohl who has been a constant part of the lineup from the start. He is considered to an extent the “anchor of the band”.
In 1995 the self-titled debut album Foo Fighters was released. The band undertook their first major tour in the spring of 1995, opening for Mike Watt, and several songs from the album were released as singles and went on to considerable success, including “This Is a Call,” “I’ll Stick Around” and “Big Me.”
After touring through the spring of 1996, the band entered a Seattle studio with producer Gil Norton to record their second album. But there was conflict between Grohl and Goldsmith by now over Goldsmith’s drumming, leading Grohl to re-record some of Goldsmith’s parts himself. Upset at these actions, Goldsmith quit the band, they scrapped the sessions in Seattle, and instead went to Los Angeles to re-record the album (with Grohl doing all drumming for the sessions). The result was released in 1997 as The Color and the Shape, and would include soon-to-be classic Foo Fighters tracks such as “Everlong” and “My Hero.”
Enter Taylor Hawkins
In need of a new drummer to tour, Grohl had previously met and befriended Taylor Hawkins, who had been playing and touring for Alanis Morissette (the two were also romantically linked for a time). Though born in Texas, Hawkins had grown up primarily in the Los Angeles area, in a relatively comfortable and well-to-do suburban neighborhood. He had previously worked as a retail salesman/cashier for the Guitar Center located in Lake Forest, California, and also played as a drummer for Sass Jordan before getting the gig with Morissette. When Grohl went to Hawkins looking for recommendations for a replacement, Hawkins volunteered himself.
“[Taylor] and I have a connection that I’ve never felt with another person in a band. I know that Taylor will be in my life for the rest of my life. … Taylor needs to be recognized as one of the best drummers you’ve ever seen in your life. I mean, I would have nothing less in my life, especially as a drummer. That plays a huge role in everything to me. Just because–if I’m not having a good show, I want to turn around and watch Taylor, so that I’m entertained. And it happens every night. He can make me laugh with his drumming. It’s the greatest thing in the world. So not only do I understand him as a person, we can speak to each other musically. It’s pretty cool.” – Dave Grohl, Spin Magazine, June 19 2003
More personnel changes
The following September, in 1998, Pat Smear announced his departure from the band in a rather shockingly public fashion on the street outside the MTV Video Music Awards. He cited wanting to retire from a lifetime of touring as his reason. At the same time, though, he introduced his replacement, Grohl’s former Scream bandmate Franz Stahl. But Stahl did not last long in the Foos lineup, and was already out before they began recording their third album.
“I’d been playing in a band called No Use For A Name for four and a half years and we’d always say we wanted to open up for the Foo Fighters… which never happened. It took a while for the initial, ‘OhmygodiamintheFooFighters’ to wear off. It’s not actually worn off yet, but they do make it very easy to be part of the team. It’s cool.” – Chris Shiflett, Melody Maker, 1999
After auditioning a number of potential replacements, they eventually settled on Chris Shiflett, who previously performed with No Use for a Name and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Initially added as only a touring replacement, Shiflett would eventually become a full-fledged member of the band and at this point the lineup of the band would remain set as it is through this current day.
The band continued touring nonstop, pausing in 1999 to record There is Nothing Left to Lose in Grohl’s basement recording studio in his home in Virginia. This album included “Learning to Fly,” “Stacked Actors” and “Breakout,” and indicated a slight change in feel from the earlier albums, more radio-friendly to some ears, less abrasive and aggressive.
Turbulent times ahead
Controversy would descend upon the band in 2000 when they would show public support of the organization Alive & Well, a group which denies the link between HIV & AIDS and questions the use of medications to counter the disease. Mendell was the strongest supporter of the organization, pulling together a benefit concert for them in January of that year. Though they talked of supporting the organization with more benefits in the future, so far this has not panned out.
Whirlwind touring would continue through the year, and would eventually take its toll. In August of 2001 while at The V Festival in the UK, Hawkins collapsed and nearly died of what would eventually be revealed as an overdose of prescription pain medications mixed with alcohol, although initial rumors had said it was caused by heroin. After coming out of a two-day coma, Hawkins knew he had to clean up his act and kick his narcotics and drug habits entirely. He entered rehab, the band canceled the rest of their European tour, Grohl realizing that they had been pushing themselves too hard and it was time to take a break.
Work on a fourth album, One by One, began near the end of 2001 in Los Angeles. It was a rough period for the band as there was some dissatisfaction with the results of the long months in the studio, and whether the band should even continue or not. After four months work on it, Grohl departed to help Queens of the Stone Age complete their 2002 album, Songs for the Deaf.
The work inspired Grohl to go back to the studio with the Foos to rework the songs for One by One, eventually entirely re-recording almost all of them in a ten-day stretch at Grohl’s Virginia home studio. As Hawkins relates of the time:
“I love all the records we’ve done, but I think maybe less so with the last one (‘One By One) which is half a good record and half one that is a little bit shoddy. It was probably not the best outing. But it is a picture of that time. We nearly broke up. We didn’t know what we were going to do. I wasn’t surprised when we binned the demo: I was thinking, ‘Should we even be making records?’ It was such a disorganized, unfocused time. I don’t think Dave was sure of what he wanted to do and, you know, he is the leader.” – Taylor Hawkins, Metal Hammer Presents…Foo Fighters, June 2005
One by One was released in October of 2002, including songs such as “All My Life”, “Times Like These” and “Low”. It is the first Foo album to feature Hawkins exclusively on the drums as well, as Grohl still played drums on some of the tracks on There is Nothing Left to Lose.
In 2003, Grohl took time off from the band again to record another album similar to the first Foo Fighters record, where he wrote and played all instruments but this time paying tribute to the 80s and 90s metal-bands which had influenced him. This time he also recruited a different vocalist for each track, teaming up with many of those influences including Lemmy, Max Cavalara, and King Diamond. The resulting project was called Probot, and was released in 2004.
Return to glory
The Foos would enter the world of politics in 2004 when Grohl became angered at George W. Bush’s used of “Times Like These” at campaign rallies. Grohl decided to throw his support into the John Kerry campaign, attending rallies and occasionally performing solo acoustic sets. The entire band eventually joined Grohl for a performance in Arizona coinciding with one of the presidential debates, and Grohl would cite his experiences during the campaign as a large influence on the material that would end up on the band’s next studio album, the double CD In Your Honor.
Recorded in Los Angeles at the band’s new Studio 606 West, it featured one “hard” disc of rock and one “soft” disc of acoustic numbers. Three days before the release of the album, on June 11, 2005, the band took over MTV studios for 24 hours straight for 24 Hours of Foo on MTV2. A large scale “electric” tour followed in support for most of the year.
In early 2006, Taylor released an album with his side project band, Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders, which had been recorded in 2004 before the In Your Honor sessions. Featuring Chris Chaney (formerly of Jane’s Addiction) on bass and Gannin on guitar, the band toured briefly in that spring.
Over the summer and through the fall of 2006, the Foos toured again with an all-acoustic set, playing smaller theaters and featuring additional musicians, including former band member Pat Smear and Rami Jaffee of The Wallflowers on keyboards. A live CD and DVD of the acoustic show, Skin and Bones, was released in November of that year.
For the follow-up to In Your Honor, the band looked to expand their sound, and the resulting album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, was released on September 25, 2007. The influence of 70s bands such as The Eagles and Queen can be heard here more strongly than ever before, while still containing much of their older heavier sound, as well as the acoustic side revealed on In Your Honor.
“The most important thing with our music is that it seems real, that it seems honest and not contrived. I don’t think anything we’ve ever done has been contrived. And if it ever felt like it was going in that direction, we would stop. And I feel like we’re free to do whatever we want to do, but you never want to stray too far from the band, you don’t want to go too far from what you’re all about.” – Dave Grohl, Spin Magazine, June 19 2003
The band performed at shows and festivals through the summer of 2007 in early support of the album, and launched into a full tour later that year. Interestingly enough, Pat Smear was once again with the band as an additional guitarist for the tour. The world tour ended in September 2008 and set off another hiatus period for the band, with the exception of a Greatest Hits release in November 2009 containing two new songs, “Word Forward” and “Wheels.”
The future of the Foo Fighters
The band is set to begin recording a new album in September 2010. In the meantime, each member has been pursuing various side projects once again. Dave Grohl has enjoyed great critical and popular success with Them Crooked Vultures, a new band he formed with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. Their self-titled debut album was released November 2009, and they are already working on a second record after the great reception given to their first. Taylor Hawkins released his second album with the Coattail Riders, Red Light Fever, in April 2010 and went on a modest tour in support of the record. Nate Mendel reunited with Sunny Day Real Estate in 2009, and Chris Shiflett has been keeping busy with his projects Viva Death, Jackson United and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Clearly none of the Foo Fighters know how to take a hiatus as a rest, and one could make the argument they are some of the hardest working musicians in the rock music industry today.
Queen/Brain May/Roger Taylor: Hawkins names Roger Taylor as one of his primary influences. In 2000, Queen guitarist Brian May added to the Foo’s cover of “Have a Cigar” for the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack. Grohl and Hawkins were invited to perform with the band during their 2001 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. May again recorded with the band, adding guitar tracks to “Tired of You” and “Knucklehead” in 2002. The bands have played together several times since then, including at the VH1 Rock Honors. Both May and Taylor made guest appearances on Hawkins’ Red Light Fever.
The Police/Stewart Copeland: Both Hawkins and Grohl cite Copeland as one of their influences on the drums, and Hawkins has been friends with Copeland for several years. Copeland has made an on-stage appearance with the Foos once (on drums while Taylor sang “Next to You”), and appeared on the 24 Hours of Foo as well (Stewart’s recount of the event can be found on his website forum. On June 23, 2007, the Foos opened for the Police at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (where Grohl dedicated “Times Like These” to Copeland). Hawkins has also performed on occasion with The Cops, a Police cover act out of Los Angeles.
Queens of the Stone Ages/Eagles of Death Metal/Josh Homme: Grohl provided drums on the QotSA’s 2002 release Songs for the Dead and for part of the following tour until departing before the European leg. Both Grohl and Hawkins have contributed to one of Josh Homme’s other projects, Eagles of the Death Metal, and Homme is now part of Them Crooked Vultures with Grohl.
Chevy Metal: Hawkins’ other side-project, a 70s cover band including Achim Dangerfield and Wiley Hodgden.
Jack Black: friend of Grohl’s, has appeared in numerous Foo Fighters videos including “Low” and “Learning to Fly”. Contributed a vocal track to Probot.
face to face: Pop/punk band featuring Scott Schiflett (Chris’ brother) on bass. Scott is also involved in the band Jackson United with brother Chris.
Feuds and enemies:
There is no love lost between Grohl and Kurt Cobain widow, Courtney Love. Grohl and Krist Novoselic were mired years of litigation with Love over the management of Nirvana’s musical legacy. During the court case they even filed papers to have her undergo a psychiatric examination, which surely didn’t sit well with Love (who “loves” to take issue with Grohl’s label as “the nicest guy in rock and roll”). They settled their legal issues in September 2002 but the personal and press battles have raged on ever since. “Let it Die” from the Foo’s album Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace has been rumored as being about Love and Cobain’s destructive relationship.
* James, Martin. Dave Grohl: Foo Fighters, Nirvana and Other Misadventures. Independent Music Press, November 2003.
* Foo Fighters – Official site
* Probot – Official site
* Taylor Hawkins & the Coattail Riders – Official site
* Them Crooked Vultures – Official site
* Foo Fighters Live
* The Ultimate Foo Fighters resource
* Foo Fighters – Wikipedia
* Dave Grohl – Wikipedia
* Taylor Hawkins – Wikipedia
* Nate Mendel – Wikipedia
* Chris Shiflett – Wikipedia